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What is plagiarism? Definition, consequences & prevention

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Definition of plagiarism

Plagiarism refers to intellectual theft i.e. using someone else’s thoughts in your own text without referencing them. It’s taking the credit for someone else’s work, which goes against the rules of academia. Quoting is not banned, quite the opposite in fact. The author must be named though. Plagiarism can take on a number of different forms. It is not only copying but also an uncredited translation or using someone else’s ideas without referencing the author.

Plagiarism can definitely be uncovered. There is special software for this. If plagiarism is detected, there are serious consequences such as failure of your work or exmatriculation to denial of a title. Copyright infringement and fraud are punishable criminal offences. So you should familiarise yourself with the conventions of quotation to know the grey areas and avoid plagiarism in all its forms.

Plagiarism: Second hand creativity OR why, with the theft of intellectual property, you’re only kidding yourself

When a writer copies from another, it’s called plagiarism.

When a writer copies from many others, it’s called science (anonymous, quoted in Winter 2004: 88)

Quotations represent the measure of how academic a text is as growth of knowledge is always based on the foundation of existing knowledge. Once this became clear, it was necessary to be aware of what happens when sources are NOT correctly cited or when intellectual property is NOT shown as such.

First you should think that it’s just not particularly nice to take something that doesn’t belong to you. It is learnt in childhood: it’s mean to take a toy away from another child in the sandpit and it was punished by parents. In adult life, we bear a lot more responsibility and the theft of intellectual property has more serious consequences than you might think. Even if it’s seemingly ‘only’ the theft of ideas and not something material.

But what exactly is intellectual theft in academia, or so called plagiarism, and how can it be prevented? ‘“Plagiarism means to present someone else’s text as your own” (Kruse 2007 : 82). So, when you take passages of text from someone else but don’t name the author of the source and put it into your own text without acknowledging it, it becomes plagiarism. But already “taking the content, not just the words, of longer passages of texts also falls under the term plagiarism if it’s not identified as paraphrasing” (Gruber, Huemer & Rheindorf 2009: 161). This means that taking someone else’s idea without acknowledging them sufficiently is plagiarism.

Overview of the most frequent forms of plagiarism

Karmasin & Ribing give an overview of the most common forms of plagiarism (according to the University of Klagenfurt’s definition) (cf. 2014: 112-113)

Forms of plagiarism Definition
Plagiarism of textWord for word use of passages of text without source citation.
Plagiarism of ideasParaphrasing of a thought / an idea. The idea is presented as your own work by putting it in your own words.
Plagiarism of quotationsUse of quotations used by the author in secondary literature without clear acknowledgment that you are not quoting the original source yourself; here the author of the secondary source must be acknowledged.
Use of metaphors, idioms, phrases without source citationNo further definition
Translation of foreign language works without source citationNo further definition

Important: Every academic work must be your own and therefore plagiarism is “a mortal sin in academic writing, which instantly invalidates your work, as you are breaching the central ethical code of academia” (Kruse 2007: 82). You should always work carefully to avoid every form of plagiarism!

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Why you don’t cover yourself with glory with plagiarism

There is special plagiarism software to expose plagiarism. This makes it possible to compare passages of text from your work with documents online (cf. Karmasin & Ribing 2014: 113). For example, plagiarism scanners can be used by universities to detect potential plagiarism. Therefore, students are often required to submit a Word or PDF file alongside the printed version of their work so that a plagiarism check is possible.

If plagiarism is discovered, this can have far-reaching consequences and can mean the end of a student’s studies. The student is not tarred, feathered and hunted out of the university, but naming and shaming is another way. As “theft of academic text is no different to shoplifting: the latter cannot be stylised as a ‘purchasing error’ in court,  the former cannot be a ‘citation error’”  (Ernst 2011, quoted from Theisen 2013: 275).

Important : Plagiarism is plagiarism and it seems unbelievable when it’s claimed that the literature reference has been forgotten. Especially with plagiarism on a larger scale, you have to be aware that this will be apparent to lecturers and professors even without using plagiarism software.

Of course everyone has heard of the most severe consequences that can result from the detection of plagiarism: some prominent doctoral candidates have had their doctoral titles denied because they had committed plagiarism in their dissertations (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen: 61). Without criticising anyone here, word has spread that the careers of these people were practically over. Of course, the paper or Bachelor’s or Master’s dissertation you’re currently working on is far from a doctoral thesis. Nevertheless, plagiarism always has consequences that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Consequences of plagiarism

  • Awarded the worst mark (‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘failed’) and nullification of exam results (cf. Theisen 2013: 277)
  • Exams cannot be taken again, the candidate is ex-matriculated (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 66)
  • The academic title or degree is denieduniversity wide ban from studying (cf. Theisen 2013: 277)
  • Fraud and copyright infringement are criminal offences and can be prosecuted as such, see Copyright Act §106 and Criminal Code §263here a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine are discussed (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 66).
Important: Plagiarism discovered in a simple, short seminar paper can have a negative effect in that for example no references for a year abroad or an application can be produced. The attempted plagiarism is noted as fraud on the student’s record and it is no longer possible to acquire points for this course.

How to avoid plagiarism and work ‘cleanly’

Quotations themselves are not banned as long as rules are followed. Copyright law allows quotations for academic purposes, see §§51 and 63 (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 66)! Why commit fraud and suffer the consequences if you can simply cite correctly and integrate other ideas with no problem? Finally you should learn to work academically during your university studies. Of course this means work but nothing that is really worthwhile just landed in your lap.

So how do you avoid committing plagiarism? First you have to know exactly when discussing plagiarism where the grey area begins. The following examples should demonstrate where the boundary between an attributed quotation and plagiarism is.

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Examples of plagiarism and correct academic work

Case 1 – Original text (Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 61)

Examples of avoiding plagiarism Correct academic workPlagiarism
Example 1Stöcklin makes a clear recommendation to teachers: “Plagiarism can be best avoided in the long term by lecturers giving assignments for which students [sic!] do not only have to gather facts” (Stöcklin 2010, p. 120).

Correct: Word for word quotation, identified source given completely.
To avoid plagiarism in school teaching, Stöcklin suggests that lecturers give assignments for which students do not only have to gather facts, but also reflect on the information and use it creatively (cf. Stöcklin 2010, p. 120).

Wrong: Analogous quotation, but not paraphrased; or a word for word quotation but not correctly identified. Tip: This use is not correct although the source has been given
Example 2Stöcklin references in his book the status of the problem of plagiarism in school teaching (cf. Stöcklin 2010, p. 120). He rejects the idea of requesting that students only collate facts for a piece of work as this leads them to copy Wikipedia.

Correct: Analogously quoted, correctly paraphrased. Source given.Tip:: Technical terms like “facts” or “Plagiarism/plagiarise” or names like “Wikipedia” are not replaced when paraphrasing.
It should not be disputed that plagiarism can best be avoided by teachers giving assignments for which students do not only gather facts but must also reflect on the information and use it creatively.

Wrong: Disguised plagiarism, not acknowledged as a quote, source not given.
Example 3Stöcklin advises teachers to not only require the reproduction of facts from students, but also that they “reflect on the information and use it creatively” (Stöcklin 2010, p. 120).

Correct: Half analogous, half word for word quotation, correctly cited, source given, integrated into a sentence.
Students plagiarise today very often especially from Wikipedia. There they find exactly the summarised contents that they have been asked by their teachers to compose.

False:Translation plagiarism, not acknowledged as a quotation, source not given.
Example 4Critics of school teaching emphasis that teachers should bear the blame when students plagiarism as the assignments are often not imaginative and merely consist of the collation of information (cf. e.g. Stöcklin 2010, p. 120).

Correct: Analogous quotation, source as example for a certain estimate, line of thought stated.
Tip: Here it would be preferable to give a second source to demonstrate that it it not just one opinion.
In school you learn to steal ideas: students plagiarise very frequently today particularly from Wikipedia. They often find the exact summarised content that they should write themselves for their work.

Wrong: Total plagiarism, used exactly, without acknowledgment of a quote, no source give.

Case 2 – Original text (Gruber, Huemer & Rheindorf 2009: 162-164)

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example and its explanation from Renkema (1993:40) shows:
“ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
The link between these two sentences relies on knowledge, namely, that being sick can be the cause of absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make the connection between these two sentences.”

Example of plagiarismExplanation
Example 1

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example and its explanation from Renkema (1993:40) shows: “ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
The link between these two sentences relies on knowledge, namely, that being sick can be the cause of absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make the connection between these two sentences.”
Translation of the original by the author, still a direct quotation. Correct! BUT: It must be stated that it is a translation and who translated it!
Example 2

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example and its explanation from Renkema (1993:40) shows: “ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
As Renkema explains, the connection between these two sentences is based on knowledge, namely that illness can be the reason for absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make a connection between these two sentences.
The grey area in plagiarism has been reached here: Only the example sentence is cited as a direct quotation, it is further paraphrased without giving the source: Even if it is identical, this must be given when paraphrasing.
Example 3

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example and its explanations from Renkema (1993:40) shows: “ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
The connection between these two sentences is based on knowledge, namely that illness can be the reason for absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make a connection between these two sentences.
This goes a step further than example 2: The translation from the original is correctly cited but not for the paraphrasing, no source is given, not once is a name mentioned. It is unclear whether this is someone else’s idea or the writer’s own interpretation (and here it is someone else’s line of thought!)
Example 4

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example shows:
“ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
The connection between these two sentences is based on knowledge, namely that illness can be the reason for absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make a connection between these two sentences.(Renkema, 1993).
The example sentence is not cited as a quotation as the source is not given, also the paraphrasing is not cited corrected as the page number is missing.
Example 5

In many cases cohesion mechanisms contribute to the establishment of text coherence. This is however not necessarily the case as the following example shows:
“ ‘He is not going to school. He is sick.’
The connection between these two sentences is based on knowledge, namely that illness can be the reason for absence from school. On the basis of this knowledge, it is possible to make a connection between these two sentences.
Total plagiarism: no source is given after the direct quotation and also the paraphrasing is not cited.

Tip: Use the BachelorPrint service for a plagiarism checker within 30 minutes online. So you’re always on the safe side. When submitting a thesis, you should always cover your back.

Conclusion

  • The use of other people’s thoughts and ideas without acknowledging them is plagiarism; you are adorning yourself with borrowed plumes, so to speak.
  • There are different types of plagiarism:plagiarism of texts, plagiarism of ideas, translations from foreign language works, use of metaphors and idioms,and plagiarism of quotations.
  • To detect plagiarism, there is special software which compares the submitted text with all texts on the World Wide Web.
  • Plagiarism has severe consequences: Titles can be denied, exams not repeated but awarded the worst mark AND, as it counts as fraud,it is even a criminal offence.
  • Quotations are in no way banned as long as you follow the rules and and know where the grey area in plagiarism is, and then you can quite easily avoid committing plagiarism.

Sources

Gruber, H., Huemer, B. & Rheindorf, M. (2009). Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten – Ein Praxisbuch für Studierende. [Academic Work – a Handbook for Students] Wien: Böhlau Verlag.

Karmasin, M. & Ribing, R. (2014). Die Gestaltung wissenschaftlicher Arbeiten. [Constructing Academic Work] 8th ed. Wien: Facultas.

Kruse, O. (2007). Keine Angst vor dem leeren Blatt – Ohne Schreibblockaden durchs Studium. [Don’t Fear the Blank Page – Studying Without Writer’s Block] 12th ed. Frankfurt: Campus.

Oertner, M., St. John, I. & Thelen, G. (2014). Wissenschaftlich Schreiben – Ein Praxisbuch für Schreibtrainer und Studierende. [Academic Writing – a Handbook for Writing Coaches and Student] Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Theisen, M. René. (2013). Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten – Erfolgreich bei Bachelor- und Masterarbeit. [Academic Work – Success in Bachelor’s and Master’s Dissertations] München: Franz Vahlen.

Winter, W. (2005). Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten schreiben. [Writing Academic Texts] 2nd ed. Frankfurt: Redline Wirtschaft.

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